Marathon Man

When Federer won his 17th grand slam title at Wimbledon in 2012, most tennis aficionados believed – and some still do believe – that his record would never be touched.  A few others believed that if any man would catch Federer, it would be his age old rival, Rafael Nadal.  Despite his, at the time, new found champion’s aura, nobody even remotely considered Novak as the man who could chase down a player widely regarded as the greatest player of all time.  Nobody but maybe Djokovic himself and his fans.  He might have begun to justify that belief.

Djokovic’s 2015 season conclNovak-Djokovic-HD-Wallpapers12uded with a fitting victory at the World Tour Finals in London’s O2 arena.  The WTF is generally regarded as one of the toughest tournaments to win, owing to the sheer quality of the playing field – the eight best and most consistent players in the world.  This year marked Djokovic’s fourth straight victory at the event.  But that’s not all.  Consider that this year, Djokovic was exactly one match shy of posting a calendar year slam and his dizzying record at the masters tournaments, as well as victories over top ten opponents, and you will see how scary good the Serb has been over the last eleven months.

What is most impressive however, is how far Djokovic has come.  If we peer back in time, five years ago to be exact, Djokovic was in Andy Murray’s shoes.  Getting ready to lead his country to Davis Cup glory.  He was also in another Andy’s shoes… Roddick’s.  He had exactly one grand slam title, to his name.  Today, Djokovic has ten.  To put it in perspective, Djokovic has won nine grand slams in the past five years, while Federer has won exactly one.  He’s also slowly clawed his way back from heavy H2H deficits against the mighty Fedal, and tied with each man in back to back matches.

What Djokovic has done is to successfully position himself to shoot down the homestretch towards penultimate greatness.  I noted silently, as I watched the way he dispatched Nadal in the semifinals, that he did so in almost a dismissive sort of manner.  It was akin to a man swatting an annoying fly out of his view.   And Djokovic is a man on a mission.  Seven slams is a lot.  And a lot can happen in two years – the minimum amount of time it would take Djokovic to catch Federer.  But in this moment, who do you see stopping the marathon man?

Five takeaways from the Round-Robin Stage

So the group play at the World Tour Finals is finally over and we know our semi-finalists.  It’s the BIG…. four? No that’s wrong.  That group was dissolved a little while ago.  But the four semi-finalists are big, make no mistake.  There’s a total of 43 grand slam titles in that line up.  It doesn’t get any bigger than that people.  But let’s look back at the major  takeaways from the round robin play, as we look ahead to today’s semi-final blockbusters.

Nadal is Back
Yes I know it may be too early to tell, but then again, it may not. This fall season has been the most consistent for Nadal since maybe his career started. He hasn’t won a title yet, but he’s made a lot of finals and he’s a stellar 3 – 0 at the World Tour Finals, with the loss of a single set. This includes a ruthless drubbing of Davis Cup glory hopeful, Andy Murray. This brings me to my second takeaway.

Murray was never here
Andy Murray, he of the on-court haircut, generated quite a buzz prior to the WTF by alluding to the possibility of skipping the tournament, in preparation for the Davis Cup final against France. I personally, do not think he was ever in this tournament, at least not mentally. Murray’s had a very consistent season. In fact, it might be his best season in terms of consistency and that is further proven by his ranking. However he still has not mustered the kind of stellar week in week out performance his more legendary peers have. Last year, Roger Federer made it to the finals of this tournament, and still went on to win the DC… bad back and all. Murray could take a cue from that for next time. Best of luck to him though.

Djokovic is mortal
You gasped? I know. I couldn’t believe it too when I found out. Truth is, with the way the Serb has been playing this season, it’s hard to fault anyone who thinks this guy is an alien or a super advanced human at least. He’s barely blinked this season and put together some stupefying unbeaten stretches in the process. However, Federer, again proved to the tennis world that Djokovic is beatable and he can drop a level or by all accounts be made to, by not being given any rhythm. If there is a weakness to Djokovic’s game, it is not in his game. He has virtually no technical short falls whatsoever. However, he has an affinity towards rhythm, maybe even more so than Nadal. Take this away, and you have a fighting chance. You can’t outhit or out-rally Novak anymore, but you can outfox him on some occasions. Good for tennis.

Federer may be peaking too early again
If there’s one phrase to describe Roger’s performances at most major tournaments over the past three years, this would be it. He starts strong, he rips through the field, gets to the final eight, four or two and mysteriously stumbles. I observed his play against Novak here. It was simply brilliant. It was similar to what he produced against Murray at Wimbledon this year. That match, for me, was the best display of complete grass court tennis, ever. But there was no higher gear to kick into so he simmered down and Novak was waiting. The round robin format may give him a break though. He got to play Nishikori in the next round (a meaningless match to him). Though he exerted himself, with a day’s rest he should be able to ramp it up again for the semis and the final (if he makes it that far). Again this is all theory. Wawrinka can ramp it up too and has.

The future’s still not ready
Take Berdych and put him in the lost generation category. Nishikori, at 26, is not far behind. To put it mildly, the “future” of men’s tennis is flailing at this point. Nishikori was actually the youngest player at this year’s WTF and he didn’t make it past the RR stage. That’s saying something. In fact, Nishikori is currently the youngest player in the top 10. That’s saying A LOT. Rewind to 2003 and this wasn’t the case. So it’s either these legendary players today, are just too good or the up and comers who should take over, are just not good enough to. It could be a combination of both. Whatever the case may be, it would be interesting to discuss and see just why the young ones aren’t making it up the ladder the way you’d expect them to.

That’s all for now guys! Thanks for reading!

Paris Bercy 11/6/2015 QuarterFinal Match Analysis

This analysis is coming a bit late, the first match between Richard Gasquet and Andy Murray is already underway and they are going the distance in the decider.  Let’s take a quick look at the other matches.

Djokovic vs Berdych

H2H: Djokovic Leads 19 – 2

Berdych will be entering this match on a six match loosing streak to Djokovic, dating back to 2013. This isn’t helped by the fact that Djokovic has handed the Czech power hitter a nice bagel in two of their past four matches.  However, Berdych has a deadly game that can blow anyone off the court when he is on.  The problem is he hasn’t been on long enough this season.  I expect Djokovic to pull through this one.

David Ferrer vs John Isner

H2H: Ferrer Leads 5 – 1

After John Isner’s shocking defeat of Roger Federer yesterday, I suppose you can throw H2H right out the window.  There’s a lot going right for Isner now.  He’s playing and most importantly, serving very well.  And the confidence from his win against Federer should carry through into this match.  Secondly, Ferrer is no Fed.  He doesn’t have the same sting in his ground-strokes or his serve and this year, his workmanlike game has started to show the effects of age.  However, Ferrer loves this tournament and it till date represents his biggest tournament win.  I don’t think it will be enough though if Isner plays at the same level.  I see Isner going through this one in three tough sets.

Stanilas Wawrinka vs Rafael Nadal

H2H: Nadal Leads 13 – 2

Nadal goes into this one with a healthy H2H and a fresh victory over Stan the beast in China.  That should give him a lot of confidence but there are lots of variables to what would have been an easy prediction in the past.  Nadal, hasn’t been Nadal for most of the year and it is only recently that he has shown a bit of the form that saw him win 14 grand slam titles.  The other, more dangerous variable is Wawrinka himself.  His game can sea-saw from downright abysmal to breathtakingly spectacular from one match to the other.  If Wawrinka is playing like he can really play, I don’t see Nadal winning.  If he’s not mentally engaged, Nadal could trump him.  The Spaniard is coming in with some steam so I give the edge to him. Nadal to the semis for me.

What are your thoughts? Share with me in the comments section and let’s discuss.  Till next time!

Little John

Patrick McEnroe once talked about Pete Sampras’s serve as being a heavy ball with what he liked to call “late movement.  It had weight to it.”  He was trying to describe the feeling of being on the receiving end of one of the most devastating serves of the 90’s and arguably of all time.  Sampras and his serve, have long exited the tour, but they have inspired a lineage of Americans with big serves.

Isner is the latest heir and as Federer found out last night, when he is on with that serve, there is very little you can do.  Yesterday I predicted a Federer win.  I was wrong.  A title, in Basel, a confident start to Paris Bercy and a favorable H2H against John, did nothing to stop the latter from felling the former.  However, I also predicted at least one tie break set.  We got two.  In their past encounters, Federer has always found a way to take care of his serve, even if he couldn’t break the Isner serve, and then step it up in the breaker and thus break Isner’s spirit.  As gigantic, as Isner and his game are, Federer had a knack for making him look… little.  Today Little John stepped up big time.

However, anyone who says Isner is all serve, would be mistaken.  It is just common knowledge that Isner’s game is heavily dependent on that weapon working exceedingly well.  It sets up the rest of his game when that delivery is pelted accurately into the opposite box.  Funny enough, Federer’s game is also built around his serve.  It’s just that his serve is not big enough as to overshadow the rest of what he does.  He obviously can hit shots better than Isner can, cleaner even.  But Isner can hit shots too and he can hit them well… well enough.  He certainly can hit them big enough.

This match underscored the lethal nature of a potent delivery.  It puts pressure on the other player.  Every forehand, backhand, volley, smash, slice or drop shot counts just a bit more.  Every delivery feels more significant.  And it is.  Because the opposing player knows that one slip up might be all it takes.  One break of serve in each set and the match is done.  Ironically, Isner didn’t break Federer today.  He was up to the mental challenge, until it got to the tiebreaks.

Agassi used to say Sampras didn’t always need to elevate his game over his opponent’s.  He brought their games down.  He did it by taking away their rhythm with his serving.  And then he’d pounce.  He’d break you and it was over.  Little John wasn’t good enough to break today.  He was good enough to mini-break.  And sometimes, that can be just as effective.

Paris Bercy: Previewing tomorrow’s matches

The last masters tournament is on the way and some of the big names have already been in action. There is a sense of calm about Paris Bercy this year. Maybe it’s because the eight spots for the World Tour Finals are already set. Often times in the past, Paris Bercy represented a hunting ground. The final battle turf to decide the eight chosen ones. It could also be because the #1 spot has long been decided. Djokovic has more than consolidated his 2014 season and even eclipsed his 2011 season. Despite the absence of this urgency, this masters tournament still holds its importance and the eventual winner, whoever it is, will surely take all the confidence from it into the WTF and/or next season. Let’s look at tomorrow’s matches of interest.

David Ferrer vs Grigor Dimitrov
This match throws up lots of interesting possibilities. The shot maker vs the grinder. David Ferrer has enjoyed playing Grigor Dimitrov in the past, building a healthy 4-1 lead in their head to head. The last victory came in Monte Carlo last year, a comfortable 6-4, 6-2 win for Ferrer. However, the one time Dimitrov managed to win Ferrer was at Stockholm in 2013. It was a tight three-setter but guess what surface it was played on? Indoor Hard. The surface favors the attacker, but Ferrer’s mental fortitude might prove too much to handle for a player whose 2015 season has been abysmal.  Ferrer in three.

Novak Djokovic vs Gilles Simon
Djokovic has been playing at such a level this season, that it’s almost impossible to not pick him as the winner in just about every match. This time I do pick him as the winner. However, I expect a challenging encounter. Gilles Simon has given Novak trouble in the past. While he’s only won one of nine, five of those matches have gone the distance. Gilles will not go down easily but he’s playing against a man at the height of his powers. Djokovic in three.

John Isner vs Roger Federer
Here’s an interesting stat. Isner has NEVER taken a set off Federer in a best of three match format. He has however beaten Federer in a best of five format on clay, and taken a set off him in the same format. This was at their very first meeting in the U.S Open. They’ve never faced off on indoor HC, but there are two things I see happening. Federer’s most likely going to win a tiebreak set and he will most likely win in straights. Federer in two

Kei Nishikori vs Richard Gasquet
Don’t be fooled by Richard’s 5-0 H2H against Kei, that last win came before the Japanese star, broke through at last year’s US Open. Kei has been solid this year, but Richard has also posted some stellar performances. Logic says I should go with Richard but I’m picking Kei to bag a first win on this court. Nishikori in two

Let the matches begin!

Nostalgia Guard

I remember the days when Federer and Nadal fans would argue for hours on end about which player deserved to hold that elusive and as yet hard to qualify or even quantify title, the G.O.A.T.  Miss it?  Not really.  I always felt like it took away from the shear beauty that was… is their rivalry.  And in a way their respective dips in championship form, has given tennis fans in both camps time to really reflect on what these two have given us over the years.

In the advent of Novak Djokovic’s rise as the next dominant champion, and Andy Murray’s newfound mastery of the grand slam tournament, Federer and Nadal have not clashed at tournament finals like they used to. To put it in perspective, the last time Federer and Nadal met at a tournament final, was Rome, in 2013.  That’s a long time for these two. It’s also a long time for anyone who has been privileged to witness the sort of tennis they can produce when playing each other.

So what about today’s final was different?  There definitely wasn’t as much at stake as some of the great finals these gladiators have given us over the years.  Yes, Federer, was chasing his seventh title in Basel and Nadal, his first but it pales in comparison to Federer looking to essentially complete a grand slam or all but ensure a calendar slam.  And Nadal winning a maiden title in Basel certainly falls short of the glory at stake when Nadal was trying to bag his first Wimbledon or usurp Federer’s spot as the number one player on the planet.   What made today’s final different was the sense of nostalgia and appreciation it brought.  Again, we had fire try to melt ice.  We had the ballerina try to outmaneuver the bull rider.  We had lefty versus righty and forehand versus backhand.  Some of the rallies, shot making and intensity shown by these two, left spectators on the edge of their seat.

For once, the talk isn’t about who is the elusive G.O.A.T is.  The talk is about the brilliant final that was played and the appreciation for their performance.  In the end, Federer grabbed this one, but Nadal sent a clear message to the tennis world.  His time is not yet up.  They both sent a message with their performance tonight.  It’s a performance we’ve seen so much of in the past.  With the two lead actors entering their twilight, it’s a performance we may never see again.  Let’s enjoy it while we can.